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Debunking Myths & the Future of Indie Film with Emily Best

Today on the show we have returning champion Emily Best. Emily is the founder and CEO of the crowdfunding platform Seed&Spark, which she started with a group of independent creators after the challenges and lessons of producing my first feature film, Like the Water

“Storytelling can change the world – when everyone can see themselves reflected in the stories we share, we empower all people to take part in shaping how we see our past, our present and our future.” – Emily Best

I wanted to have her back on the show to talk about the state of indie film and how filmmakers can survive and thrive in the future. I recorded this interview before COVID-19, just around the time TUGG went under (you can read about that here).

We have a spirited conversation about the future and how the mindset of filmmakers needs to change to make it in the future. Enjoy my conversation with Emily Best. 

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Alex Ferrari 0:27
Well guys, today on the show, we have returning champion Emily Best from seed and spark. And I want to have Emily back to kind of talk about the state of indie film, how to debunk a bunch of myths that filmmakers have about not only the filmmaking process, the distribution process, how to raise money, all those kinds of things. And I couldn't have a better guest to do that. And I do want to let you know that we recorded this pre COVID so there will be no mention of Coronavirus or anything like that. In this episode. I recorded around the time that the film The film, theatrical film aggregator, I guess you would call it tugg went under. And we kind of talked a little bit about that and future film aggregators and all that kind of stuff as well. But there is some amazing, amazing content in this episode. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Emily Best. I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion, Emily Best. How are you sweetie?

Emily Best 3:20
Thank you so much for having me? I'm doing all right. It's a Friday.

Alex Ferrari 3:23
It is a Friday. It is a Friday. I'm so glad to have you back. You were one of my original guests. I think you were like in the 20s if I'm not mistaken of the podcast, and now we're getting close to 400. So it's been four years over four years since we've spoken. I mean we spoken but we haven't been on the on the show. So it's it's crazy. It's a lot has happened in your world that in mind thing. I remember you were a great interviewer back then. So I'm super excited to experience x plus 400 hours of practice I am I have the pressure, the pressure. I don't know if I could take the pressure this is this is way too much. So for people who don't know who you are Emily, can you talk a little bit about who you are, and tell us a little bit about yourself?

Emily Best 4:12
Yep. I am the founder and CEO of a company called seed and spark. Think of seed and spark like a Digital Studio. We are built to increase equity and inclusion and entertainment and optimize for the cultural impact of the work our creators make. Fundamentally I believe Equity and Inclusion happens when creators can make a sustainable living from their work wherever they are. Diversity has to be both demographic and geographic and along a lot of dimensions. And building equity is really about building pathways that everyone has a fair chance of using. So our company is sort of divided up into three pieces that all work together to form our version of this Digital Studio and unlike studios that profit off creators our hope eventually is just to profit with creators. We have a national education program, we teach about 120 live workshops a year in more than 50 cities. And we have some online education as well. On our website, we teach creators the tools for creative sustainability, we teach them how to understand connect with audiences learn to monetize them. We teach pitching, we teach distribution, then we have a crowdfunding platform that has the highest campaign success rate in the world. And until this year, we have been entirely focused on motion pictures. We've helped more than 2000 projects raised over $25 million with the highest campaign success rate in the world, which is about 80%. And this year, as I said to you, before we started recording, we're rolling out across other storytelling verticals. So the highest campaign success rate in the world is now not limited just to filmmakers. If you make, you know, podcast, books, games, software, music, theater dance, what am I missing, there's so many ways to tell stories. If you're a storyteller in any medium, you can now take advantage of our suite of tools. And then we work on on distribution with creators. So we do have an online streaming platform. It is highly curated right now because it's it's actually not our core focus, we really see the streaming platform as a tool in the toolkit of creators who are building creative distribution strategies. And that's really where we have focused our attention. So we work with creators on building event ties distribution, sort of rolling their, their content, I have to say content now, because we're not just talking movies and shows anymore, rolling your stories out for live audiences in different places, through various event tie strategies. And then our newest addition is we have found a pathway for right now just film, although we have figured out that it won't be just for film in the future. But our pathway are to bring films into workplaces to help companies build more inclusive workplaces. And so if you think of that education is sort of the pipeline and the creator cultivation. Our online platform is where you can build audiences and make your work. And then we have these distribution strategies. So that's a studio it just built really differently for the things that we care about.

Alex Ferrari 7:32
That's that's man, you're busy lady. We're busy. I mean, I thought I hustled My God, you guys are Stephens bark hustle. tmcs. Exactly. So you, you, you lot how old is seems Mark's been around for how many years now?

Emily Best 7:52
Seven, and a pinch, Sherif. We launched in December of 2012. Okay, and we relaunched the website and what is time, Alex 20. The Fall of 2015, we relaunched the website. And that I would say was really when we kind of started to get off the ground because the first version of the website as any, anybody out there who used us pre 2015, sorry about the technology. We were doing our level best.

Alex Ferrari 8:22
You actually you actually talked to me around that time it was around the fall of 2015 is when I launched the podcast in the summer, so we would have probably been around that time when I interviewed you. Well, I can't I can only tell you from my experience, everyone listening, I crowdfunded my first film, this is Meg, with seed and spark in 2017. I think it was 2017 if I'm not mistaken, and I had a wonderful, wonderful time. And I first of all, I can't stand crowdfunding personally, it's just too brutal. It's, it's really hard. It's hard. It's brutal. It's emotional. It's just it's rough. But the experience with you guys and working with the platform was wonderful. And, and we were able to fund the film completely. And I was able to shoot the movie pretty much in in black and like I was in the black when I was shooting. So that was amazing. Case Study, and we're gonna follow up with you after Yeah, I mean, I was literally I was because I already started shooting because it was such a small budget before we launched the campaign because it was just me a camera and my main actress, I'm like, Okay, before we bring in all the other cast, let's just shoot all the stuff we're gonna shoot at you in your house. And we did that. So as we were shooting, like in my crowdfunding video, there was there was scenes from the movie already, because I was already shooting so I was already shooting the movie. So when I was all said and done, we looked at the numbers. I'm like, I think we can literally be free because we didn't have to worry about money. Yeah, so I looked at the entire experiment and the entire experience is an experiment for me. as a filmmaker is like, you know what, I'm just gonna try this. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. It's, you know, it is what it is. But it worked, it did very well. And also got it It also got accepted to. So we sold it to Hulu. So it was great.

Emily Best 10:15
So when when you're already in the black, we like you're not worried about sales price as much. And you're just like, that's the cherry on top. That's awesome.

Alex Ferrari 10:22
No for that film and went to Hulu, I got sold internationally to different territories. And I and I, you know, I sell it on my own streaming platform, and I still make money with it all the time as well. And my partner who's the star of it, Jill, we're very, we were extremely happy and see the spark was just wonderful part of it. So that's why I always promote you guys. Because you're, like I say you personally are kind of like a shining light in the mud. In darkness that is destroying this industry in so many ways.

Emily Best 10:51
We're in it, we're in a weirdly dark time for as much money as there is going into the business. We are in a weirdly dark time. I mean, you and I talked about this. I don't know a couple weeks ago, I came out of this sort of January festival scene. I'm feeling really distressed. Because you know, I go there. And I talked to festivals, and I talked to indie distributors and I talked to platforms and I talked to theaters and I talked to creators, I talked to producers. And none of them are like I'm rolling in cash. They're like, Where the fuck is the money? Money, I'm not making money, he's not making money. They're not making money. She's not making money, like, Where is the money. And I'm scared when when distribuir closes, when tug shuts down. There is an indication that the ecosystem is not super healthy right now. And it doesn't surprise me. So over the last seven years, we've seen the great pivot to streaming, right Netflix 1010 years ago decides we're going to go all streaming, they have this big vision, they're not wrong about it, except that nobody's talking about the fact that they're not a profitable business. Right, they have a ton of income. But it doesn't seem to be coming from a model that nets profit. In fact, they're $26 billion in debt 20 to 26 like that.

Alex Ferrari 12:23
They're using the Amazon, they're using the Amazon model that they're just gonna go into debt and debt and debt. But the main difference between the Amazon model and them is Amazon is extremely diversified where Netflix is not.

Emily Best 12:33
Yeah, that's right. And so we see that happening. And there are a couple of things that that really bothered me about this model. Number one is, as everyone else in the industry has gone, the way of subscription streaming, there are three things that are happening that I think are challenging, and I'm gonna name them up front. So you can remind me because by the time I get to number two, I will already forgotten. That's what small having small children did to my brain, I understand. Number One has to do with personalized recommendation algorithms. Number two, is what it does for creators long term sustainability. And there was a number three, look, I've already forgotten what the third one was, maybe I'll get there. So number one is, if all of these major companies are competing around subscription streaming, what they're competing for is the most of subscriber time they can so that you don't have time to like go to another platform, right? They want to be your sort of soul space. It's by competing for subscriber time, it means they're optimizing for keeping you on the platform. And they're all doing this through personalized recommendation algorithms, personalized recommendation algorithms, those are like math functions that are trying to figure out what you would want to watch. If they are programmed to keep you on the platform. They're programmed to keep you comfortable. They are not programmed to challenge your worldview, or change your mind or make you think differently, or build empathy for your neighbor. Now from the place that I sit in the universe talking to creators all across the country who are trying to tell untold stories, and raise up voices that have not been listened to, for the last century of Motion Picture entertainment. They are trying to build bridges, build empathy, change minds change perspectives. And yet the mechanism for delivering entertainment is literally programmed to thwart its cultural impact. So that's challenge number one. Now, I think that leaves a lane wide open for creators who want to build real community for platforms that want to bridge the online and offline experience and for theatres and festivals to become this meeting place. Because if the platform is programmed to keep you there, and to isolate you inside your own bubble, there's always research now that shows that personalized recommendation algorithms create the same kind of content bubbles on your streaming platforms, you get in opinion bubbles on social media, right? So so that's one challenge that has to do with like audiences are getting isolated. Good and insulated with the way that entertainment has gone even as we have the rise of equity and inclusion in entertainment, and these creators want to do exactly the fucking opposite of that. Since you haven't scolded me, I'm gonna assume I can continue to drop that.

Alex Ferrari 15:15
I mean, I was just gonna let you go, and it's okay, I've dropped an occasional f bomb on the show as well. So you can, you can go, thank you. You're passionate, and I appreciate, you're passionate about it. And listen, I have some episodes that make a sailor blush. So

Emily Best 15:32
I probably won't do that. But I did. I did finally read something that said people who swear more trustworthy. And I was like, that's why I do it. Sure, sure. But that works. The second thing is that we're starting to see these Digital Studios, operating like the pre trust bust studios. So they're signing all these first look deal where they own all your material upfront. And there, they are spending a shit ton of money on a few creators who have no long term upside against the content. So it used to be, you know, you could you could sell off. I mean, what your experience is, is there's like a really long tail monetization strategy. And if you build something that's really good, and it has presence and

Alex Ferrari 16:22
Seinfeld, friends or

Emily Best 16:24
Anything like that, like you could make money on it for the rest of your life. That is going away. Yep, it is right. And creators across the board are beat or being turned into work for hire against their own IP.

Alex Ferrari 16:39
See, even down, it's an emergency, they're coming.

Emily Best 16:45
But this part is crazy to me. And I see creators like lining up to give away their IP into 99 year contracts with Netflix, who could cancel you after two seasons, because it's financially beneficial for them to do so. And then they own your content forever. Yep, your baby your stuff. Right, they can decide where you go, somebody who is not talking to you is writing a recommendation algorithm that may never surface your content to the appropriate audience because they, you know, the math function hasn't really figured it out. So that's the second piece that I think is, is a huge challenge and is is really disrupting the marketplace. And the final piece is that with the exception of Disney, Apple and Amazon, Disney makes content to drive to their live events. And Apple drives you to buy devices, and Amazon is selling you content. So you buy toilet paper from them, right? But the other the at&t, right, which is now Time Warner, right? They own the pipes, they own the devices, they own your internet into your house, and they own the content on those pipes. Like these are massively consolidated conglomerates. These are not ethical business models. And they are driving the price of creativity down as they're competing for one another. It's sort of like Uber and Lyft. Like in order to compete, they have to drive the price that they are paying drivers down, down, down, down, down. So you're commoditizing creative labor, yes. You're not giving people an opportunity to build long term equity. And they're sucking up a ton of capital. But these are not profitable business.

Alex Ferrari 18:30
It's not sustainable. It's not sustainable at all. But I wanted to ask you, because I've wrote I've written about this a lot as well. I believe that there is a devaluation of media in general of visual media because it happened with books in the book. And in the in the publishing industry. First, it happened then in the music industry. And now it's happening to us. So if you want to see a model of what we're going to be just look at the music industry, there used to be 10, student 10 labels. Now there's like four. And before you used to have to pay $18 for a song now it's essentially free. Beyonce is making Beyonce, one of the biggest stars in the world is making a 10th of a cent every time it's played on Spotify. And that's considered good. So there's no sustainability into and that's where we're all going in the in the in the film industry. Would you agree?

Emily Best 19:18
Yes. And the way that musicians get around it is they tour and they build a direct relationship with their audience. And that's what creators across industries have to learn to do. Yep. So that's what that's really what we're building on the distribution side. I'm seeing spark is like the infrastructure for creators to be able to tour things like movies. And there are lots of examples of it in in is, you know, 10 years ago was 10 years ago or eight years ago with a film called good Dick was one of the first sort of, you know, widely lauded self theatrical releases, but people had been doing events is releasing I mean, don't sis dolomite? Yeah, exactly dolomite you have Tyler Perry, Cheryl Bedford did this with dark girls. I mean, there are people who have been doing versions of this because they've been left out of the mainstream in the first place. Um, I actually think dolomite is one of the best examples or a creator of any kind to follow. Most especially because like he wasn't discouraged while he was bad at it.

Alex Ferrari 20:28
He was he was like, he was like a successful ad would.

Emily Best 20:32
But yeah, but he was, but he was basically like, while I'm bad at it, I'm just going to work until I get better at it

Alex Ferrari 20:38
Exactly.

Emily Best 20:40
Perfect, and therefore I quit. It was such an incredible story in that way.

Alex Ferrari 20:44
And he also what he also understood his audience, he understood his niche audience, and he made a product for that niche audience. And I watched that movie. And as I'm watching that movie, I was just like, this is amazing, like roadmap. It's a roadmap on how to do it. And he liked he took risks. He put all his royalties up from his music, his comedy albums, to the and he did like 10 movies or something like that. And he owned them.

Emily Best 21:07
It's also a lesson to make stuff that's important to your audience, right, like, seen at the end, where his co star stops him and says, Nobody puts people like me, I've still been like, Nobody puts people like me on the screen, like, it does. It does matter, right. And so I think all of this is an opportunity. What it means is, filmmakers have to stop subscribing to the myth of getting picked. They really have to stop stop subscribing to the like, I'll just go away and make the perfect thing. And then I will get noticed. Like, it just doesn't work like that anymore. Not if you want to build long term career equity, like, could you maybe write a really great script and get it picked up by netflix? Sure. It's a lottery ticket. Is that but is that also not only is it a lottery ticket? Like is it the best way to build long term career equity? I mean, I don't know like go ask people who've had their shows that they worked on for years and that they loved and nurtured, canceled after a season or two with no information or data about how that decision was made. And see what they say.

Alex Ferrari 22:15
Exactly, it's because I feel that not only screenwriters but I think filmmakers are living in the past and they're making movies like it was 1990 and then all of a sudden, you know, for lack of a better term Miramax who was the the company I know, but that was the company in the 90s who did what they did they you know, if it's not Miramax, Fox Searchlight or Sony classics those guys, they came in and and and built up, you know, built up these careers area, you know, remember in the 90s in every every month, mariachi clerks reservoir, you know, Linkletter like there was so many, and so many filmmakers are still living in that amazing stretch of launching white male filmmakers careers. Exactly. There was the occasional john Singleton and Spike Lee, but that's, you know, a rarity, and none and then Robert, the only Latino in the bunch. I think, being a Latino myself. So that's why I love Robert so much. But yeah, but that's basically what it was. And people are still thinking that and I think now this is the first time I've actually even thought about this. But you're absolutely right, is screenwriters are still living in the world that you're going to write a spec script or either get a job on on a show or sell it or something like that. But that's not sustainable anymore, because you're not going to get the back end and the residuals that the industry has, has lived on. I was talking to an actor the other day, who was a very, he was a very successful character actor. He's been in 1000 things. And he was telling me He's like, Alex, that the residuals are gone. Like I used to do one or two national spots a year commercial spots, and he was good. He was good, those are all going away. And now 80% of films are being done with non union. So the unions are starting to lose their their power. You know, it's it's a very scary time. And I keep telling people, this is a good economic time. We're not in we're not in a downturn, we're not in a crash per se. It right 2008 happens again, or worse. What do you think's gonna happen to the tugs and distributors of the world, even Netflix's of the world for that matter? Yeah, I mean, I

Emily Best 24:21
think I think that's a really interesting question to ask because there are some companies like seed and spark like gum road, who we built ourselves to be around for a while.

Alex Ferrari 24:34
You have a solid foundation.

Emily Best 24:36
Yeah. And a business model that I mean, crowdfunding emerged from the ashes of the 2008 financial crisis, right? That's, that's what crowdfunding was built to overcome. At the time, it was like people who had rich uncle's, their rich uncle's weren't investing and so they had to turn to a thing and now crowdfunding has gotten A lot more sophisticated. And also we don't have like, there was also built on the like Facebook, open social graph, which doesn't exist anymore. A lot more sophisticated, but it's also available to a lot more people. And, you know, we've certainly spent all of our time making it a tool that anybody from any kind of background can actually use successfully. But it means, you know, it means coming to work differently. In terms of the the financial time, I think there are more tools available to creators to monetize their work than ever before. But it's not. You don't make your work the same way that you would, if you were aiming for a Netflix and you don't, you know, you don't raise two and a half million dollars for a movie and make it and then figure out who's going to buy it Oh, like, I just don't think you should do that anymore.

Alex Ferrari 26:00
You can do that with $100,000, let alone two and a half million new lessons 100,000 you can lose.

Emily Best 26:06
I was gonna say it's actually more important not to do it with $100,000 movie. And that's, that's why we started teaching workshops on distribution is to really give creators the tools, they needed one like, Okay, so we've been teaching these crowdfunding workshops for half a decade now. And we started teaching them in Atlanta, and we did a creative marketplace survey there and a few other cities where we were teaching where there's like big, solid, creator communities, and like a lot of talk about like creating a sustainable, independent ecosystem. And so we surveyed creators on what what are your challenges and funding and team building and distribution? And in funding? everybody's like, Where are the investors? Right? Which is like, just a question you have for the rest of your life.

Alex Ferrari 26:50
Where's the money? Where's the money? Yeah.

Emily Best 26:51
The second question is like, what are the challenges of building team and those are like, you know, finding the core team, making sure it's diverse enough, being able to pay them like these sorts of things. By the way, what we have seen from economic surveys of our crowdfunders is that 80% of money raised in crowdfunding goes to pay cast and crew, which I find really exciting. That's awesome. Because it's a job creator. And the final section we asked about was distribution. And we laugh, we have a laugh in the office, because most of the answers to the questions that we asked about distribution, were just literally question marks.

Alex Ferrari 27:30
Nobody knows. Nobody knows.

Emily Best 27:31
People didn't know what they didn't know. And we're like, Okay, let's do this. So we created sort of a distribution one to one about like, what what is it really, really to distribute in this marketplace? Like, what are the steps? What are the capabilities, what are the possibilities, we interviewed a bunch of like key players in independent distribution and TV, etc. And then we built we, we pulled together a bunch of case studies of creators who took the time to really get to know their audience, built up the important organizational partnerships and influencer partnerships and festival partnerships, and, and really always had their larger career in mind. And similar to your story, managed to really well monetize their films, and make sure those films reached the audiences that they really cared to reach with them, which we have myriad examples of where distributors fail to do it. And something I often do in the room. Because, you know, we're in cities across the country. And so some cities who are like, you know, basically never featured in movies that we all see on the big screen, right, like cities that are kind of absent from our national imagination. So I go in, and we're in a, we're in a room of 200 people. And I'll be like, okay, Who here is working on a project, that's like, really not like anything that's been made before. And like, half the hands might go up. And I'm like, cool. I just want you to know that that means no sales agent has ever sold a movie like yours before. And no distributor has ever distributed a movie like yours before. They are not the experts. They know things based on their past experience. But you've just told me they've never had an experience like working with a creator like you on a movie like this. So if you don't show up, being able to talk to them about who your audience is, how they like to be reached, how they like to be talked to everything that dolomite knew about his audience that got the the record label to call him and the studio to call him. It wasn't until he knew all those things, that distributors were literally lining up to work with him. Right? And because he knew all that the popular critical opinion didn't mean shit doesn't matter. Right. So I feel like there's just this mentality that like, I'm just the creator and I all I'm supposed to know is the creative thing. If you don't know at least enough to be dangerous. You're done. Yeah, and there's so many examples. movies. Like there was there's some really terrible statistics actually of like movies made by black directors, who would go to Sundance and get a nice looking distribution deal. And the distributors really didn't know what to do with black films Besides, like, put them out on DVD during Black History Month. I'm not joking. It's just ridiculous. I have specific examples to point to, and they don't make their money back. And then that is a mark on the Creator, not the distributor. Correct. And that is a mark on an entire quote, unquote, niche audience, even though it's like 13% of our population, plus everybody else who doesn't need to look like the protagonist in the movie to enjoy it. There's a lot of us, by the way, right, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 30:46
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Emily Best 30:57
So it's, I think it's, it's just a time for us to deeply reevaluate the myths of success, our system and start elevating different stories about what's successful.

Alex Ferrari 31:10
So I, you know, I went to, I wanted to ask you this, because, I mean, I've been I've been neck deep in the distribution side of stuff now for a while. And then once I got involved with the distributor, you know, debacle and became kind of like the spearhead of that situation, which by the way has not finished, we're still going through stuff with that that scenario. I was invited to go speak at AFM, and I know your feelings about AFM. But I've read your feelings on AFM. And that's fine. I completely understand. By the way, AFM dropped two days off their schedule for this year, because na went from a place anymore because it went if we went from 800 distributors down to 351, this year, and then next year is probably going to be less. And but the one thing I did notice, because I went this year and I went last year was the that I just realized that nobody understands what's going on. None of the distributors are really at this at that level, the mid and low level distributors, which are where a lot of these indie movies would get picked up by you know that the big, not the big studios, not the Fox Searchlight, or even God forbid any of the major studios, there's only a handful up there that will even look at them. So we're talking about mid level and below. They were clueless, like I literally was in meetings with with distributors, and they were trying to pitch themselves to the distributor, you know, people, filmmakers, like hey, we want to help this, you know, we want to pick up all those distributor movies. I'm like, haha, okay, so I would do the meetings. And I would just sit there and I would listen to them. And I just asked them about their business model. And they would just lay out this old rehash crap kind of system. Yep. And then I just turned to one of them. I said, you, you guys really don't know what, what's going on? Do you have no idea how to make any money with these? Do you? There's no guarantee.

Emily Best 32:56
It's every time I talk to somebody who's launching a new new streaming platform. And I asked them what their customer acquisition strategy is. And they're like, Oh, you know, like Facebook ads, whatever. I'm like, cool. You're gonna compete with Netflix and Apple, and like they're buying all the keywords that might matter to you. And and frankly, if your differentiator is like diverse content, for example,

Alex Ferrari 33:17
Or indie groups that Oh, yeah. And there's a lot of indie distributors, like indie streaming, no one cares. No, this is not 2019. India is a budget level, it is not a genre. Not anymore. Like in the 90s. That's when indie kind of started, that was the whole indie genre, which there were and there were a lot less films and all that kind of stuff. But when you launched your streaming service you had an audience built in from your email was perfect, was really smart.

Emily Best 33:42
And even then we fundamentally don't believe that that's the right path forward. Like, it is a tool in the toolkit of creators who are building these larger connective strategies. I'm like, for me, if you're going around and doing amazing events around your movie, let's say or your podcast launch, or you're doing like live book tour, or whatever, that stuff should be available online, so that after the event when all those people had a great time, go home to their friends and are like, I just watched this amazing movie and their friends, like where Can I see it? The answer can't be nowhere. Which is often the case, right? So to us, there are some versions of what was formerly known as day and date that we think when built around events can we've actually seen can really work Naomi mcdougald Jones's shuffle vampire tour is an incredible example.

Alex Ferrari 34:34
Friend of the show, friend of the show.

Emily Best 34:36
Yes. out everybody go by the wrong kind of women.

Alex Ferrari 34:41
Yes. She's great. She's what she was, well, she was wonderful. And I had her when I heard about her story. I had her on the show and, and she's very frank about the whole situation. She's, how depressing it is. And you know, like, you know, when she went to like her day in and day and she's like, but iTunes, the numbers weren't there. I'm like, Well, that was the one thing I was gonna say about FM. I realized that See VOD is essentially almost gone for independent film. It's dead unless you can personally give a very rabid audience. And you could drive that for maybe a week or two. But the days of what the Polish brothers did with four lovers only half a million dollars on TV that's gone.

Emily Best 35:15
You drive it to your own website at this point, or you drive it to like what Naomi did is drive it to seed and spark. We're getting paid between 20 and 50 cents a minute stream, then it's valuable,

Alex Ferrari 35:25
Right? So then, so it's a TiVo has gone. s VOD is kind of like if you if you're lucky enough to even get an S VOD deal, meaning like a Netflix or Hulu deal, which those deals are very far, few far between now because they're just focusing on their own content. Yeah. Then you got amazon prime, which now rakes from a penny to an hour to 12 cents an hour, depending if your algorithm likes you. So that's not really the greatest thing. So now the big keyword is Avon. So Avon is where a lot of money is being made. And I saw it, I saw I see the numbers from A to B, I see the numbers from Pluto. Now, peacock is gonna come out as an A VOD platform as well. So a VOD is that we're all going back to television is hilarious. But that's where the that's where the money is for independent films next year, it could be something else with the landscape changing so rapidly, because you and I both basically win since 2015, you know, basically been coming up together. And we've been, you know, we're in different sides of the battlefield. I feel like you see us you're at some point, I'm over here. I'm in this trench, you're in that trench. But we're both seeing what's happening. And as it's just insane, that the whole landscape is changing so rapidly, that these quote unquote, professionals have no idea what's going on. And I think the the, the casualties are the creators and the filmmakers.

Emily Best 36:41
Yeah, I would argue that it's not necessarily they don't know what's going on, as it doesn't behoove them to pay attention to it. There's not too scary, right?

Alex Ferrari 36:51
To have ostrich syndrome,they have an ostrich,

Emily Best 36:53
They're disappearing really rapidly. There's some of them who have, you know, one of the indie distributors out there who I won't name, still occasionally picks up movies out of the festival circuit does kind of mostly service deals, they do like 30 movies a month,

Alex Ferrari 37:12
Will not be named but we all know who it is actually backed up by a softcore porn business. When it's like, you know, you know, like, skinemax?

Emily Best 37:26
Like zombie sluts to or whatever. Yeah, like, yeah, that's, um, and that's fine. They're not upfront about it. But like, that's fine, like, do that business.

Alex Ferrari 37:37
But that's not what they said. That's not that's Oh, my God, it's so.

Emily Best 37:47
So I feel like, um, you know, nobody is going to solve the problem of distribution for creators. And something that we just keep saying over and over again, is distribution is not something you get distribution is something you do great part of your job to build your career. I don't as the CEO of my company get to be like, Yeah, but actually selling shit to customers is not my problem. Like that's insane. Only problem is business, that business. There is like, there is no content without a consumer, unless you are super rich, and are just making things for fun. It's a hobby, like a hobby. Yeah, if you if you want to make a sustainable business, you have to care about your unit economics, and you have to care about your customer. And you have to know about your customer, and you have to know how to find your customer. And like creators. I've seen creators sort of shudder at all this stuff. And I'm like, sorry, but like, What makes you so special, that you shouldn't have to think about the person who's going to spend their hard earned dollar on the thing that you made, when in fact, your audience is probably just as smart as you think you are. Preach, preach and preach. And the reason that I love and invest in crowdfunding so much is like, you cannot find a person who has run a successful crowdfunding campaign who doesn't have five at least audible stories of this person found out about my crowdfunding campaign. Who either you know, knew me from way back then or I've never met them before in my life. And they were so inspired. They did XYZ for my film, and it changed the game. Like everybody has that story. Like we have a I shot my first movie in Maine. And so if you're going to shoot a movie in Maine, like there has to be a lobster vaccine or what are you doing?

Alex Ferrari 39:44
I mean, seriously, why why would you not?

Emily Best 39:46
And this guy showed up on time in the morning with a giant baki bought us 25 lobsters which was 5x the number we actually needed and dropped them off and was like you kids, have fun. left.And that happened because of our funding campaign.

Alex Ferrari 40:07
That's amazing.

Emily Best 40:08
I don't honestly know, we would have kept the lobster vaccines specifically, if somebody hadn't been like, y'all bring your lobster because like, it's expensive. So so I feel like the thing that you discover when you start to really meaningfully engage with your audience or your customer, if I'm allowed to call them that, is they will love you and support you and do things for you. You haven't imagined, like we three of the filmmakers who have used our website throughout the years just became investors in seed and spark. That's awesome, right? thumb at very, very small amounts who were just like I just you what you did on the platform, change things for me, I want to get involved in your next. So your audience may be the next group of people who support your film. And cultivating that audience is about making everything that happens after this film easier for the next one, and the one after that.

Alex Ferrari 41:00
So Emily, what you're telling me, let me get this straight here. You're telling me that as a filmmaker, you have to think about your audience, you've got to think about the business, you also have to create your art, and you're not just going to get picked out of the crowd or someone from out Hollywood's gonna come down and tap you on the shoulder and say you will now have a career for the rest of your life. Is that what you're saying? What is that? You want to hear it clearly, please?

Emily Best 41:23
Yeah, finding a river if you don't like it. I didn't pick capitalism. Not my like, favorite version of economics. Okay, but like, this is the one we live in. And the landscape we live in is there is a ton of opportunity. Finally, we the chip, you can literally go online and with free tools, you can make your movie available behind the paywall tomorrow, right? That was not true. 50 years ago, right, or what I don't know what his time anyway,

Alex Ferrari 41:51
10 years ago was very difficult.

Emily Best 41:53
Um, so there is tremendous opportunity. But we live in an incredibly fragmented marketplace, across independent creators, that is incredibly consolidated at the top. And the reason that we go out and educate filmmakers is because the more consolidated it gets the top, the steeper that mount Hollywood becomes, and the harder it is to ever get picked at all.

Alex Ferrari 42:22
If that's what your goal is,

Emily Best 42:24
Well, the thing is, if you super invest it, look at dolomit. He's super invested in building a direct audience relationship, no matter after he got told no. And then they called him. And that's what happens. You build a really great audience, they come fucking calling you.

Alex Ferrari 42:41
I can only tell you that since you started you were one of my first guests from the moment that I interviewed you to the moment I have now. I've been trying to get into the Hollywood I look, I drank that kool aid that mariachi Kool Aid A long time ago. And it took me until I was 40 to make my first feature film, because I was waiting to get picked or playing the game. And I changed the rules. Because I said, You know what, I'm not gonna wait any more that tools are here, I'm gonna go out and do my own thing. And the second I changed the rules, and I said, You know what, I'm not gonna play by your rules. I'm gonna play by my own rules. I'm gonna create my own little sandbox. Yeah, and I'm gonna do my own thing. And the second I did that, in these last four and a half, almost five years, you I can't even tell you how much how many people have come. You've contacted me purely because I'm doing my thing. I'm doing it my way. And I don't need them. It's kind of like a bank loan.

Emily Best 43:28
Here is like a credit doing more than that, though. Well, you are you are amplifying the voices in the community who are making more opportunities available for creators, you're sharing your experience incredibly openly. You're making it easier for somebody else to make that switch that you made earlier on in their career, and you're providing them the tools and information to do that. And that's some that's the superpower I think we have. The challenge with the notion of independent film is independent sounds like it means a lone wolf, doesn't it? No. We will not create an infrastructure for ourselves that can compete with any individual Hollywood studio unless we are unified. And it's what people like Naomi did when she went on the road for the joyful vampire tour. They were literally filming and cutting episodes at like Kiwi is a genius like I don't know how she did it on camera, cutting the thing putting the story together. And it was amazing. It was amazing. You know, and and probably driving the van sometimes. Anyway, like I think there's the, the sharing it back and building the expertise and kicking the door open and pulling the people up behind you. That's actually the most powerful tool we have for manifesting a really healthy ecosystem. And I do think it's on the businesses to be super transparent about their own unit economics and their own, you know, capacity to stick around because There are some platforms that that creators are relying on that are super, super leveraged. You know, and it makes it hard for them to stick around that makes them really vulnerable. So I just think it's like, you know, it's a time where we do have to be, we do have to be experts in our industry, because it's on us to remake it in the, you know, in the, with the values that we really actually want to, we care about

Alex Ferrari 45:30
No, no question and and it's, it's tough enough. Everything we're talking about is tough enough as independent films like this is, like, remember before the tough part was to make the movie now that that's not the toughest part anymore, the technology has made it so affordable, now that you can make an affordable, good looking independent film, the problem now is getting it sold, getting it out there doing all that stuff. And then it's tough enough without companies like distributor going under and and you know, doing what they did. And and the situation with tug is another scenario, which is still developing story. But

Emily Best 46:04
Yeah, we don't know what we don't we don't we don't know. But with with, with companies like distributor, I think it's so important for filmmakers to ask really key questions about how they make money and how they distribute money. Now, look, there's not a lot you can do if a company is like literally not being forthcoming about what's actually happening,

Alex Ferrari 46:23
or mismanaged or just look, companies don't wonder all the time.

Emily Best 46:26
Totally. It's an especially in our business, it's like it's distribution companies have been going out of business since the dawn of time. It's not anything new. I think that we talked about this with distributor, the aggregation platform is not a distributor, those are two very different,

Alex Ferrari 46:46
They should be just a pass through, they should just be a service, their post house, essentially,

Emily Best 46:50
it's it's very often that some of these technology solutions are sold as sort of distribution, you know, deals or solutions. And they're not. They're just technology solutions. And I think it's important to be forthcoming about what it takes on behalf of filmmakers to really leverage the tools. So like, we weren't just going to build a crowdfunding platform and be like, this is the best one why cuz it is a crowdfunding platform is what the fuck you make of it. But that's not also fair to say to people, like, here's a great tool, get good at using it Good luck. Like, the reason that we invest so much in education is like if we want to be the quote unquote best in the world, it's only because our creators are the most prepared, they're the most prepared to succeed. That like our secret sauce really isn't more than that, is that we we prepare creators probably better than anyone else. And we're, we're sticklers about it a little bit

Alex Ferrari 47:54
As you should look, come on. This is a such a brutal business. I mean, I'd rather you be a stickler than, you know, getting your hand your ass handed to you

Emily Best 48:03
Be a stickler and have you have a good first successful crowdfunding experience, then, you know, burn you on credit, like, these are the platforms that have like 10 11% success rate, like people come to us all the time. from other platforms being like I had a terrible experience, I never thought I was going to crowdfund again. And they come to one of our workshops, and they start to feel like a glimmer of hope and possibility or on crowdfunding, we've converted a lot of people who've had unsuccessful campaigns into successful ones, by simply preparing them, and we can't do it all for all facets of the business, we're not here to prepare you to produce like for production, we're not here to prepare you for every single element. And we certainly can't conceivably prepare everyone, because you know, every film, in this case, every film is, could have a totally unique distribution plan that's actually appropriate for it. So what we can do is equip creators with enough knowledge to prepare themselves. But like, that's as far as we can take it, and you're doing a lot. Sure, but I just think like, you know, there is a big personal responsibility piece here. And I totally, I get the like, why should I have to do at all and I'm like, because capitalism, frankly, and like, I don't like it either. But, but I would rather do it all. And I say this to people all the time. Probably 70 to 80% of my job is shit I don't particularly love to do. Right. And I do it because the 20 to 30% is so rewarding. I wouldn't have it any other way. And PS, I get to choose who I work with. And I don't have to work with assholes and that I will choose to sleep over for the rest of my life. Like if I have to lose sleep over other parts of the business so that I never have to work with an asshole happy as a clam. But that's I mean, I think that's part of it is like, you know, there we also sell creators this myth that like When you're really successful, all you have to do is the is the cool part. No. And that's just never true. There's always like, I'm pretty sure that a lot of those really successful actors don't love going on 20 City press junkets Oh,

Alex Ferrari 50:17
yeah. But they know the business. They understand the business.

Emily Best 50:20
You know, and we all have a version like it's what is it? Like everybody has to eat a shit sandwich. It's what ships in to tolerate eating?

Alex Ferrari 50:27
No, it's no it's a gamble though. Tourists I heard him speak once. And he said, being in Hollywood, like eating a shit sandwich, you could change the bread, you could put some lettuce on it, you can put a little nice vegan mayo on it whatever you want. But at the end of the day, you're still eating shit. That's exactly it. Now, the one thing I've been pushing a lot in, in the last year or so. And I've been talking about it loosely over the course of all the time I've been doing this, but is the concept of being a film intrapreneur being an entrepreneurial filmmaker. And I do truly believe that the only six The only way for moving forward is to become an entrepreneurial understanding every business creating multiple revenue streams, that includes touring, that includes ancillary product lines include services, you could build all these things around films and or companies and or filmmakers and creators. And you're not just handing it over to a third party company and praying that they're going to give you a check. That could be one revenue stream, but not all of them. Is that is that Do you agree with that concept?

Emily Best 51:34
Yeah, you know, there's a, there's a term that a friend of mine introduced to me recently, which is that of a portfolio career. Yes. And I think when you talk about creative entrepreneurship, it's often not built around a single vertical of storytelling, or a single monetization stream, right? Like, I don't think anybody is really just making money making even the big directors are all directing commercials on. Like, Scorsese directed a lineup like yeah, cuz they probably were like,

Alex Ferrari 52:08
He was making a commercial the hiring an actor.

Emily Best 52:11
Yeah, exactly. Like whatever it is, like, like there are you have to diversify your revenue stream over time. And I think for freelancers, it can feel super hectic to think about, well, I have to do a little of this, and a little of that, and some brand work and some whatever. And then I do my own stuff. But the concept of a portfolio career is like, you know, my experiences that some of the most multi talented, multi capable people I've ever met, happened to end up an independent filmmaking for whatever reason that is. And so these are people who it's not just that they have multiple talents, but they have multiple interests. And I do think there is a way to synthesize that if you think about all of these interests, laddering up to a portfolio career, it's a career that actually is built up out of all the things I'm interested in and talented at. And I don't have to feel like I'm just a jack of all trades, master of none. like to be a CEO. It's a portfolio job. Oh, God. Yeah. Right. Like you have to have leadership and management skills and some HR skills and some like, a little bit of technical understanding and a little bit of it. It's a it's a portfolio job. Being a film director is a portfolio job, you have to know so many things about so many things, just to make a set really go the way that you want it to go beyond the

Alex Ferrari 53:31
Politics and all of that stuff.

Emily Best 53:33
Yeah, being a producer, one of the most portfolio jobs in the universe, like you have to be able to, like organize all the coffees and entice and dazzle investors like it's a crazy fucking job. So I think like it's in line with the full skill set. And if I think about the creators who have built incredible long term IP value, the duplass brothers work with a lot among them, like Mark talks all the time about going up the Hollywood Hill, like coming out of their first like big Sundance premiere studio thing. And realizing that was not what they wanted to do, then making everything for super cheap, owning all of the IP and now having a giant library to license long term wealth that they have built, right?

Alex Ferrari 54:23
Yeah, exactly. Like what Tyler what Tyler Perry did, he's built an entire Empire. Dude,

Emily Best 54:28
and has anybody made a more baller move than Tyler Perry recently, teaching a former Confederate army base and converting it into a big deal.

Alex Ferrari 54:39
One of the biggest studios in the world, honestly, and yeah, and Hollywood still adores them. And Hollywood still ignores him. He's kind of like the the most ignored mogul ever. Like you don't need them. He doesn't know he doesn't and he knows it. You know, he used them for what he was good for. But now he easily now he's got what a Netflix deal going on. And also have other stuff that he's got going on. It's it's, it's insane. And I love that, like the duplass brothers are amazing. There's, they're, they're one of the they one of the inspirations for me making this as mag, because I did it with a scriptment and, and I did all that stuff. And I was lucky enough to, to meet not meet. But I saw mark and Jay speak one on one of their book tours for that great book that they wrote like brothers. And I had one of the winners of the of your of your thing. The heroes. Yeah, yeah. Oh God, to their two young girls, that Megan and Hannah. Yes, they were out filmmakers. They were on the show. And they were just so excited to be filmmakers. It was just like, so happy.

Emily Best 55:45
I wish I could bottle their energy and distribute it to everybody because I just, they're having a like, you know, it's hard. But like, they managed to have fun in ways that I just really admire. They said, the silliest, most wonderful birthday message I've ever received in my entire life came from those two. And actually, Megan has become an instructor for seed and spark. So she's teaching our workshops. I'm just about to go to Winston Salem, and do a creative sustainability summit with her. Yeah, so they're, yeah, they're remarkable.

Alex Ferrari 56:18
I mean, what you guys what you're doing Emily, and what you've done for me, you are honestly one of the few good people doing what? I don't think that's true. I really appreciate No, no, no, listen, listen. Before you before you stop me, I'm gonna say something. Okay, cuz I know you're gonna do that. No, no, no, no, no, look, there are many good people. And there are many good people, you know, taking the taking up arms, and there are many. But you're one of those shining lights and have been since I started, I've started 20 years ago, 25 years ago in the business, but during this time, though, you know, we've been coming up coming up there, I've seen people come and go, I've been I've seen people, companies come and go, people rip people off all this kind of stuff, you've been very constant. And only you've only had the, the the best intentions in mind, at least from what I can see from what I have known of you is you're truly trying to help creators, you're truly trying to help filmmakers with your platform and the way you're doing it, and doing it on your own. And by the way, by dancing to your own song, you know, there's no question about it, you definitely are dancing to your own song. And you created a platform that you're like, you know what, screw the big boys, I'm going to do it my way. And I'm going to help filmmakers, and I'm gonna help great now you're helping all creators with your platform. And, you know, that's what I try to promote with indie film, hustle, and with my other companies as well, is to try to help educate and push filmmakers forward. And also give them a nice nice spoonful of reality. Because I'd rather them get a spoonful than a punch in the face from somebody else. And and I think you do the exact same thing. So I do appreciate you doing what you do.

Emily Best 57:55
That's so kind of you. I does. On our door, the door between our conference room in our kitchen and the office.

Alex Ferrari 58:04
Yeah. Can you see what that says? This is we are truth tellers. That's awesome.

Emily Best 58:09
That's a really important key thing. So when you talk about the dose of reality, yes. I think the most important thing we can do in this business to help ourselves and our peers is to tell the truth. Yes. To be honest about the experience of good, bad and indifferent to, it seems inspark we feel like it's our responsibility to like really research things and understand the real dynamics of what's going on and like make whatever phone calls we can make behind the scenes to like, find out what's really going on to talk to creators who've had distribution deals that like look favorable and like, unpack, well, how did it actually go, you know? We are truth tellers, I feel like really defines what we're trying to do. Because I think we're in the business of telling fantastic stories. We can't do that about the business of telling the stories. Because we've really shot ourselves in the foot buying a myth that doesn't exist. Oh, yeah. dispelling those myths in favor of giving people something they can do every day that they own, that they control. That's so much more exciting to me than like, I mean, I love making it like that. filmmakers like Meghan, Hannah got to work with the duplass brothers. Like, that's so delightful. It's so wonderful. But like, Mark and I joke like the the whole point of a crowdfunding rally is when you get to the end of it, you've already raised money and built your audience like you don't need us anymore. You know what I mean? getting picked would be the icing on the cake, but you've proven to yourself You don't need to get picked. You can pick yourself

Alex Ferrari 59:59
that's Amazing, absolutely true. Now I'm going to ask you a few questions I ask all of my guests. Okay, what advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today?

Emily Best 1:00:10
Sorry, to break into the business today. Start talking to your audience, get to know them, get to love them get to understand them. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life, I think my actual, it's not a lesson. It's like constant maintenance is how to be responsive and not reactive. So in leadership in team building and decision making, when you're working with lots of people collaboratively in this age of like instant digital communication, text messages, text message, and emails and all of that, it can be very tempting to just react and, you know, right back right away. And I think being responsive and building a little thoughtfulness into how you react when people say things to you that you have strong reactions to where people write things to you that you have strong reactions to. And that is a that is a forever challenge. And so I have to be in it like a good space in order to be there. So whatever care it takes me to maintain this sense of responsiveness and not reactiveness I think is really important.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:24
Emily, I can't thank you enough for being a champion of filmmakers and creators out there and in for doing fighting the good battle that you are fighting every day. So thank you so much for everything you guys do at Seton Spark.

Emily Best 1:01:35
Thank you. Thanks for this great podcast and great interview Alex.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:40
I want to thank Emily for coming on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe. If you want to get links to anything we talked about in this episode, please head over to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/402 and I'll also have links to the first episode Episode 23 that we do with Emily which is really an masterclass in crowdfunding for filmmakers. Thank you guys for listening. I hope this episode was of value to you on your journey. As always, keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.


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